Mr Stevenson guides me to sit on one of his armchairs. My involuntary response is to flinch and turn away, but I somehow manage to overcome my defence mechanism and sit on the edge of the patterned seat. It is only when I taste the coppery blood in my mouth that I realise I’ve been biting my cuticles. The only way I can stop myself from gnawing at my skin is to clutch the cushion underneath me. I grip as if I am holding on for dear life. In a way I am.
“I was fourteen when it happened,” I began.
“The abuse?” Mr Stevenson asks, and I shake my head.
“I was a walking cliché. My parents were constantly fighting and all that did was drive me away from home. I’d fallen into the wrong crowd. It wasn’t long before I started drinking and smoking pot,” I take a deep inhale before continuing, unable to gauge Mr Stevenson’s reaction. “The gang that I was involved with enjoyed joy riding. It was the one thing that petrified me. Over time, the more I drank and smoked, the less I cared. Then the day came when they asked me to steal a car. I didn’t know what to do,” Mr Stevenson sighs, and I feel the need to expand, “I know it sounds stupid, but I thought that the only way we’d stay friends is if I did everything that they asked.”
“If they were real friends, Sophia they wouldn't have asked you to break the law.”
“I was a rebellious teenager. I just wanted to be liked,” as I speak, I can hear the defensive tone in my voice and quickly remember the point of this conversation. “In the end, I decided to take my dad’s car and pretend that I had stolen it. They were so… impressed.”
“I’m guessing your dad found out?”
My fingers dig hard into the cushion creating a crunching sound.
“We’d spent the evening getting drunk and high. I was cruising down this low-lit highway. I can still hear the music blaring. The road was so quiet, it was like no one else was out that night, just us. All it took was one second of me turning to talk to my friends in the back seat. I heard the impact before I felt it,” my eyes tighten unconsciously as I talk, the repressed memory alive once again. The sound of blaring music is now replaced with the screeching of tires. “The thud was so forceful we were thrown forwards, yet no one said a word. We just stared at one another with sheer terror. I didn’t dare look.”
“So you just drove off? Without checking?”
I hang my head in shame and watch as tears splatter onto the floor.
“How does this have anything to do with Lucas?” Mr Stevenson retorts.
“When I returned the car, the bonnet was all concaved and there was… blood. Whatever happened, I knew it was bad, but when my dad saw it he didn’t flip out like I expected him to. He calmly asked what route I’d driven and said that he’d sort it. My dad left the house that morning and didn’t come home until hours later. When he did, he had a brand-new car,” I pause briefly afraid to finish my story. To admit the things that followed. Things far worse than the car crash. “He drove me out into the middle of nowhere. I noticed soil under his fingernails as he held the steering wheel. When he finally parked up, we were facing a mound of freshly dug dirt. He didn’t have to tell me what he had done. I already knew. We just sat gazing out at the grave before us in silence. His hand resting on my thigh. He told me that he’d always protect me, that he’d never share my secret… if I did a favour for him too.”
Mr Stevenson doesn’t ask for me to explain more than I already have. I know from the sadness in his eyes that he understands. I watch through blurry vision as his sadness morphs into despair, realising what this means for his son.
“You see, if I speak out so will he. I’m so sorry,” I sob uncontrollably.
I can’t bear to see Mr Stevenson’s sorrow any longer. I unclench my hands from the rim of the armchair and feel as they ache slowly into a straight position. As I stand, I am suddenly aware of the snot that has formed above my top lip. Embarrassed, I wipe it with the top of my sleeve and then turn to leave.
I hover at the front door, facing away from Lucas’s father. Away from my responsibilities. There is nothing that I can do to fix Lucas’s problems. Neither of us can be saved. Before Mr Stevenson can say another word, I open the door and step back into the dark.